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Shake 'Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell

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Album Review

When she paid tribute to Robert Johnson on her 2006 album The Lady and Mr. Johnson, Rory Block tried to replicate Johnson's style exactly. She was not so reverent on 2008's Blues Walkin' Like a Man, a tribute to Son House, and on the third album she considers part of her Mentor Series, she takes some creative license with Mississippi Fred McDowell on Shake ‘Em on Down. One difference is that she actually met House and McDowell, which seems to have freed her to take a more creative approach. She acknowledges that McDowell's driving, repetitive playing also served as a challenge, noting that he played more for dancing, intent on keeping a constant rhythm, than with any sense of virtuosity. And while she has counted the number of times a given figure might have been repeated in a particular performance of one of his songs, in her own versions she has added solo guitar lines to the basic riffs and also included other features, such as overdubbed vocal choruses. She also has written songs concerning McDowell, such as the leadoff track, "Steady Freddy," an imagined autobiography, and its successor, "Mississippi Man," her account of meeting the bluesman when she was 15. And she has adapted some of his songs, switching gender on "Good Morning Little School Girl" (which she acknowledges uneasily as being about "child predation") and "The Girl That I'm Lovin'." All of this is to say that she has applied a fan and scholar's attention as well as an artist's vision to McDowell and his work, demonstrating that a tribute requires both.


Born: 06 November 1949 in New York, NY

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Aurora "Rory" Block has staked her claim to being one of America's top acoustic blues women, an interpreter of the great Delta blues singers, a slide guitarist par excellence, and a talented songwriter in her own right. Born and raised in Manhattan by a family that had bohemian leanings, she spent her formative years hanging out with musicians like Peter Rowan, John Sebastian, and Geoff Muldaur, who hung out in her father's sandal shop, before picking up the guitar at the age of ten. Her record debut...
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Shake 'Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell, Rory Block
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